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SALT LAKE CITY — Did you know your elected representative can help if Social Security or Medicaid are giving you grief? Or if your veteran benefits or taxes are processed incorrectly?
Every United States congressman, senator and governor has staff designated to providing assistance to constituents who ask. This help, also known as “casework,” is the lifeblood of many local offices.
In fact, most representatives have multiple staffers who deal with differing areas of expertise. Some specialize in military and veteran affairs, helping veterans schedule appointments with the VA and receive care. Others work with immigration, where they assist immigrants with pending applications for citizenship or visas get a timely response from United States Citizenship and Immigration Services.
In Utah, they might also work to help missionaries from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints get visas to serve abroad. They can even help you if your passport isn’t showing up on time for a trip.
Casework can be life changing, but many Americans don’t know about it. So we’ve done our research and reached out to the office of Sen. Mike Lee to answer some common questions.
What qualifies as casework?
Here’s the criteria, according to Sen. Lee's office:
- Your issues must involve a federal agency. Your representative can reach out to the local branches of federal organizations, like the BLM or post office.
- You have to have something pending with a federal agency. Offices cannot file your taxes or passport paperwork for you, but they can help expedite the process if the pending application is stuck somewhere.
- Casework must pertain to you as an individual, such as your taxes, benefits, etc. Any issues with current U.S. or state law require legislative fixes, not casework
What do I need to do in order to get casework help?
- Complete a short consent form with some personal information. As Conn Carroll from Sen. Lee’s office said: “We require constituents to complete a privacy release form before we start assisting them. This form allows us to contact agencies on their behalf and discuss specifics of the case. If we do not have this form, we are unable to assist.” A consent form is proof to the federal government that individuals want their representatives reaching out for them. These release forms are available on the websites of each elected official (linked below), in person and via fax and email.
- If your case contains documentation, you may want to send it in with your release form. Cases that refer to USCIS applications or Social Security claims may be substantially easier to resolve if clear documentation is sent in. This allows the federal government to locate your claim and review your case more easily.
- Be willing to call, meet with or email the office you are working with. While not always necessary, workers will need to occasionally clarify details of a case over the phone or via email. They may even want to meet in person if you’re available. Offices will try to be flexible with your needs, but returning messages in a prompt manner can help cases make progress.
How can I increase the odds of a successful outcome?
Despite the efforts of local offices, not all cases have happy endings. But there are some things you can do to improve your chances.
- Contact your office early. Some work, especially in regards to passports and visas, is time sensitive. Starting a case with the time to get it appropriately resolved makes a big difference. “When constituents contact us with a request to expedite something, our options to remedy might be limited," Carroll said. "The sooner constituents contact our offices for assistance, the more recourse we may have. “We’ve been successful in bringing unique requests in front of appropriate agency supervisors," Carroll added, speaking of successful cases. "For example, when a request is shown as pending for a significant amount of time, with no reason given for the hold, we are able to contact the appropriate supervisor to inquire as to what the problem may be.”
- Be professional. Avoid calling or emailing offices multiple times a day for weeks on end and listen to the caseworkers involved. Pay attention to the experts working on your case and do your best to help them help you. While casework can be emotional and deeply personal, being respectful and allowing the office to work is important, too.
- Don’t expect immediate outcomes. Oftentimes, offices are waiting for federal agencies to respond and cases can take weeks or months. Be prepared to wait and don’t panic.
Casework might be one of the most positive and personal experiences constituents can have with their officials. It is a good reminder that public servants are willing and ready to serve anyone, including you.
“We want Utahns to know that they can call their (U.S.) House member or senator for help," Carroll said. "We’re surprised when members of our staff speak to groups and they say, ‘I never knew that I could call a member of Congress to get help.’” Katie Workman is a University of Utah political science and mass communications major. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org